Post-War & Contemporary Art

Pop art, minimalism, abstract art and more Post-war & Contemporary Art

Covering the fragmented, illustrious, bountiful, expansive world of Post-War and Contemporary Art, exploring all the movements, counter-movements and beyond, in a vast array of artwork from 1945 right up to today.

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"The European and American avant-garde of the 20th century produced so many great artists, and such a wealth of captivating art, that there is something to intrigue everyone. The great icons of American Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism fascinate me as much as the minimalists of the ZERO group.”

Julia Mauersberger, Head of Post-War & Contemporary Art Department

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About the Post-War & Contemporary Art Department

The Department of Post-War & Contemporary Art deals in art from 1945 to the present day. Multiples, graphics, photography, sculpture, installations and paintings are the main focus of the regular auctions, which can accommodate young collectors as well as adding to the collections of traditional buyers. Julia Mauersberger and her team personally look after the acquisition of everything from individual objects to large collections, appraising art alongside market conditions, and visiting works in person upon request.

How to define the contemporary

The history of 20th/21st century art is a narrative of endless possibilities and the search for new standards, each being torn down in succession by the next. New movements rise and fall almost quicker than they can be followed, and artists gain notoriety and fame in equal measure. Many terms used to describe contemporary artists and movements overlap, fall into disuse, are too imprecise or even too specific.

The rise of the US

The story of post-war and contemporary art is one in which America plays a hugely prominent role. Having emerged from World War II relatively unscathed, and with a booming economy, it was a haven for artists from the European avant-garde, whose ideas in turn inspired American artists. By the early 1940s the main movements in modern art - expressionism, cubism, abstraction, surrealism, and Dada - were already represented in New York. Also in New York, MoMA emerged as the most influential museum of modern art in the world, playing a hugely important and prominent role in developing and collecting modernist art.

The first American movement to achieve international influence was Abstract Expressionism. Developing in New York in the 1940s, the name is derived from the combination of the emotional intensity and self-denial of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract art schools. Abstract paintings by artists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko are some of the most instantly-identifiable works in post-war art.

The installation as Gesamtkunstwerk

Another notable feature of post-war and contemporary art is the rise of installation art. Installations are three-dimensional works, distinct from sculpture, which are designed to transform the perception of a space. They generally incorporate a broad range of everyday and natural materials, as well as new media such as video, sound, and performance.

Postmodernism describes movements which arise and follow on from modernism. Postmodernist art is noted for the way in which it blurs the distinctions between what is perceived as fine or high art and what is generally seen as low or kitsch art. Pop Art is one of the most famous postmodern movements, personified by artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Their mass-produced prints are eagerly sought after as wall art by many collectors.

The challenge of abundancy

One of the main features of collecting modern and contemporary art is that there is not such a limited amount of it as art from other periods. In fact, that can be one of its challenges; the breadth and scope just of contemporary paintings and contemporary drawings is enough to bewilder even the most hardened of enthusiasts. Yet there is a huge amount of worth to be drawn from such an expansive body of works, and visitors to a contemporary art auction can be faced with everything from metal sculpture, through postmodern paintings, to installations, all at the cutting edge of the avant-garde.